Austin, Texas –Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives blocked passage of a bill with sweeping new voting restrictions by stepping out shortly before midnight, denying majority Republicans a quorum.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was quick to say he would call a special session to try again to get it approved, but did not specify when that would be.
The bill, known as Senate Bill 7, would have imposed a series of electoral changes that eliminated drive-thru voting, empowered supporter poll observers, and imposed new requirements to vote by mail in Texas. , which already has some of the toughest passing laws in the nation.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the bill seemed almost guaranteed to reach Abbott’s office. the, after Republicans used bare-handed procedural procedures to suspend the rules and take action in the middle of the night over Memorial Holiday weekend.
But as Sunday night wore on in the House, the GOP’s odds faltered.
About two hours before the midnight deadline to pass the bill, Democrats began to walk out of the chamber in growing numbers, denying Republicans the quorum necessary to hold a final vote.
The walkout has inflicted on the Republicans a rare defeat at the Texas Capitol where they control all levers of power and have an overwhelming majority in the House and Senate.
State Representative Chris Turner, the Democratic House leader, said he texted his caucus members at 10:35 p.m. telling them to leave the chamber.
“We killed this bill,” Turner said.
Republicans have shown restraint in criticizing Democrats for the move.
“I am disappointed that some members have decided to break the quorum,” said Republican State Representative Briscoe Cain, who passed the bill in the House. “We all know what that meant. I understand why they did it, but we all took an oath to the Texans that we would be here to do our jobs.”
“We have been saying for so many years that we want more people to participate in our democracy. And it does not appear to be,” said Democratic State Representative Carl Sherman.
The move was reminiscent of 2003, when outnumbered Democrats twice broke quorum to stop Republicans’ efforts to redraw the voting cards. House Democrats first left the state in droves for Ardmore, Oklahoma, only to return a few days later. Senate Democrats delayed a special session that summer by traveling in groups to Albuquerque, New Mexico for several weeks.
In the end, neither effort worked as Democrats eventually returned to Capitol Hill and Republicans passed the bill.
As part of revisions during closed-door negotiations, Republicans added language that could make it easier for a judge to overturn an election and pushed the start of the vote to Sunday, when many black worshipers go to the polls . The 67-page measure would also eliminate drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting centers, both introduced by Harris County last year. It is the largest Democratic stronghold in the state and includes Houston, its largest city.
Texas is the last major battlefield of the, prompted by former President Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Georgia and Florida also passed new voting restrictions.
President Biden on Saturday called electoral changes in those states “an attack on democracy that we have seen far too often this year,” an attack that “often disproportionately targets black and brown Americans.”
CBS Dallas notes that major companies, including Texas-based American Airlines and Dell, have warned the measures could hurt democracy and the economic climate. But Republicans have ignored their objections and, in some cases, ripped off business leaders for speaking out.
Leading Republican negotiators, State Senator Bryan Hughes and Cain, called the bill “one of the most comprehensive and sane electoral reform projects” in Texas history.
“Even though the national media downplay the importance of election integrity, the Texas Legislature has not bowed to headlines or signaling corporate virtue,” they said in a statement. common.
Since Mr. Trump’s defeat, at least 14 states have enacted more restrictive election laws, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. He also counted nearly 400 bills introduced nationwide this year that would restrict voting.
Texas Republican lawmakers have insisted the changes are not a response to Mr. Trump’s false allegations of widespread fraud, but are necessary to restore confidence in the voting process. But doubts about the election outcome were stoked by some of the state’s top GOP leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, who conducted a failed trial in the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to cancel the elections.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chaired Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in Texas, offered a million dollar reward to anyone who could produce evidence of electoral fraud.
Impartial inquiries into previous elections have revealed that voter fraud is extremely rare. State officials from both sides, including Texas, as well as international observers also said the 2020 election went well.